With experts due to formally accept the term this year, it is time we became familiar with its story. The Shock of the Anthropocene offers just that: the story of the evolution of our newest geological epoch. Did it begin with rice cultivation 5,000 years ago? Or with the industrial revolution, when human production and emissions began exponentially increasing? Through history, graphs and academic theoretical analysis – which can make the writing dense at times – Bonneuil and Fressoz track our changing apprehension about nature and the planet.
They explore how our view of the Earth went from seeing it as an inanimate object to seeing it as a series of complex, sensitive and inter-dependent processes. ‘Nature was recognised until relatively recently as essential but separate from us,’ they write, ‘instead of “masters and possessors” of nature, we find ourselves each day a bit more entangled in the immense feedback loops of the Earth system.’ Bonneuil and Fressoz explore how views of the world’s resources have evolved from them being infinite to limited, with budgets now placed on the fuel in the ground, the energy at our disposal and the carbon in the air.
At its core, The Shock of the Anthropocene details how nature has forced itself into all aspects of science and society, after centuries of it on the backburner, and unpicks our current interpretation of an environmental ‘crisis’. This is no climate change doomsday book. It’s about the long-term legacy of the planet we are altering.
This review was published in the April 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.